Brian Miller on the role of the Vietnam War in the formation of the Libertarian Party

In a piece at Delaware Libertarian, Brian Miller responds to those who disagree with his critique of Redpath’s “list of promises”:

One of the more amusing tricks of the NeoConTarian faction is to challenge the accuracy of even the smallest statement and use sweeping generalizations like “rant” and “liar” to attack those who they wish to avoid addressing directly. That treatment is typically not applied to their own boys, like Bob Barr, who can claim at the convention that he wants to repeal DOMA, yet show up on cable news a couple of days later and hail DOMA as a great example of Libertarian legislation.

This tactic is old hat to those of us used to campaigning against Republicans in the 1990s, when a large proportion of the present NeoCon support base in the LP was campaigning AS Republicans. A quick examination of Newt Gingrich’s memo on “language as a tool of control” sheds a bit of light on this, and Libertarians who are serious about campaigning against the righties’ tactics would be well-advised to read and memorize every word of it, so they’re aware when language is being used as a tool to attempt to “control” them.

Meanwhile, it’s disappointing that people who *should* be taking the fight to the NeoConTarians are falling for such tactics themselves and directing their big guns at me.

What of the history of the LP vis-a-vis the Vietnam War?

Marc Gilbert’s seminal analysis of the Vietnam protest movement, The Vietnam War on Campus:

Only a united front, the students realized, would truly threaten the Establishment. As the 1960s crumbled around them and the forecast for change in the 1970s looked bleak, these students decided that only a completely new way of thinking and acting would force such institutions as the government, the university, and more amorphous “social order” to respond to their demands… For some, this dream came true in the creation of the Libertarian Party in 1972.

Not into academic citations? How about the mainstream press in one of its few balanced examinations of the Libertarian Party from 2002? Courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The disenchantment of a few over the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls has grown into what they say is the nation’s best-organized and most successful third party.

“Other parties come and go,” said David Nolan, considered the party’s founding father. “The reason we have staying power is that we are consistent.”

(If only Mr. Nolan’s statement was true today, just six years later).

Still not convinced? Suspicious of academia and the press?

Why not ask the Libertarian Party of Colorado?

David Nolan and several other friends got together in the summer of 1971 after being disgusted with then president, Richard Nixon announced to the public the implementation of wage and price controls, which basically removed the gold standard and allowed the government to impose inflation easier. Along with the ‘illegal’ Vietnam War, loss of fiscal conservative direction of the Republican Party and the socialist directions of the Democrat Party, the group started the think tank to come up with a better political solution for real limited government and individual freedom.

Or the Libertarian Party of Michigan, noting the groups that came together to form that state’s party affiliate, including:

Goldwater supporters. Karl Hess’s rhetoric inspired many citizens in a country torn over the Vietnam War. Defining liberty and its defense becomes more than academic when you have a draft card in one hand and a rifle in the other. Later, many supporters became active in Young Americans for Freedom and College Republicans.

21 thoughts on “Brian Miller on the role of the Vietnam War in the formation of the Libertarian Party

  1. Brian Holtz

    Miller’s original claim was that the LP was “founded largely in opposition to the Vietnam War”. Now he retreats somewhat and claims that “that the Vietnam War was an important — and arguably THE most important — formative stimulus behind the creation of the LP”. Nobody is disputing that the LP was anti-war — and especially anti-draft — from the very beginning. However, it’s still the case that it was the events of Aug 15 1971 that actually triggered the formation of the LP. Miller cites four texts discussing the formation of the LPUS. Three of them correctly identify Nixon’s wage and price controls as the proximate stimulus for the LP’s founding, and the fourth gets the year wrong and just happens to be in a book about — wait for it — Vietnam war protests. Thus Miller’s own evidence rebuts his original “founded largely” assertion.

    Of course, Miller does not even attempt to quote Aaron Starr being an “outspoken proponent of foreign military interventionism”, nor does he attempt to defend his characterization of Redpath’s talking points as “neocon” despite them not even mentioning foreign policy. And Miller was flat-out wrong to charge that Redpath’s list takes “swipes at the UAW”.

    So of my four specific criticisms of the truthfulness and accuracy of Miller’s diatribe, three stand unrebutted and the fourth is confirmed by Miller’s own evidence. QED.

  2. Gene Berkman

    Going back a couple of years, the Vietnam War was the major factor in causing the creation of the Libertarian Caucus in Young Americans for Freedom at the 1969 National Convention. Legalizing marijuana was the other important issue we had with the YAF conservatives.

    I was working for SIL when Dave Nolan started the Committee to Organize a Libertarian Party, in protest over Nixon’s imposition of Wage & Price Controls. In his initial draft platform for the LP, Nolan called for withdrawal from Vietnam.

    Unfortunately, Myrna Culbreath denounced the idea of surrending in Vietnam, and urged more bombing. She basically filibustered until the delegates deleted any reference to Vietnam in the platform. She then dropped out of the LP altogether.

    During the 1972 campaign, John Hospers would occasionally mention the LP’s opposition to the war, but it was not until the 1973 convention that a firm commitment to non-interventionist foreign policy made it into the platform.

  3. Gene Berkman

    Paulie, Dana Rohrabacher was anti-war, and went with me to several anti-war protests. He even went to the big antiwar protest in San Francisco in October 1969.

    Of course he was draft-age at the time.

    Prior to becoming a libertarian, he had been involved in YAF’s “victory in Vietnam” campaigns, and in 1967 he had gone to South Vietnam on behalf of the World Youth Crusade for Freedom – a YAF front. But he definitely became anti-war after joining the Libertarian Caucus, and remained antiwar till the end of the War.

    In 1976 however he backed US aid to the “anti-Communist” (but pro-Mao) UNITA group in Angola, and became a more conventional anti-Communist after he got a job with the Reagan campaign that year.

  4. Libertarian Joseph

    Why is Brian Miller attacking his own party? That just doesn’t look right. Usually you shut up and vote out incompetent folk at conventions, not use the LP state blog to slander fellow party members. How does this look to potential recruits?

  5. Gene Berkman

    Eric Dondero makes a couple of factual errors in his article.
    (A) Dana Rohrabacher was not a founder of the Libertarian Party, and has not ever been active in the Libertarian Party.

    (B) Myrna Culbreath was not a founder of the Libertarian Party; she attended the founding convention, and then dropped out.

    Also, as you mention, Paulie, Eric neglects to mention Dana Rohrabacher’s involvement in protesting the Vietnam War.

  6. Gene Berkman

    Eric Dondero makes another error in his article on Vietnam and the founding of the LP – he states that Dana Rohrabacher was Chair of the Libertarian Caucus of YAF.

    In fact, the Libertarian Caucus did not have a chair. Dana was a leader, along with William B Steele (now Shawn Steele) along with Don Ernsberger and David Walter of Pennsylvania.

    After we formed the California Libertarian Alliance, Dana was asked “Who is head of the C.L.A.? ” His answer: “We’re all heads in the C.L.A.”

  7. hogarth

    In his initial draft platform for the LP, Nolan called for withdrawal from Vietnam.

    Unfortunately, Myrna Culbreath denounced the idea of surrending in Vietnam, and urged more bombing. She basically filibustered until the delegates deleted any reference to Vietnam in the platform. She then dropped out of the LP altogether.

    so much for the idea that anarchists have controlled the LP for the first 30 years…

  8. Brian Holtz

    Not the first 30 — the last 34. As I said in my handout in Denver:

    Murray Rothbard, who had long been active in Republican politics, defended Richard Nixon for President in 1972 over the alternative of George McGovern. After first opposing the creation of the LP, Rothbard joined it by 1974 and quickly helped orchestrate a complete rewrite of its Platform, replacing a compact moderate minimal-government platform with an abolitionist one that became bloated with quasi-anarchist positions like personal secession, completely open borders, privatizing all streets, and immediate non-enforcement of all tax laws. Within a few years, the LP’s initial meteoric growth stopped in its tracks. Rothbard used vicious personal attacks to push out the LP’s moderate leaders, who in 1983 took refuge in the Cato Institute. In 1989, Rothbard himself abandoned the LP he had hollowed out, and by 1992 was back in the GOP supporting Pat Buchanan for President. His lieutenant Bill Evers, an anarchist who helped Rothbard rewrite the LP platform in the 1970′s, ended up as an advisor to George W. Bush, and worked in Iraq in the occupation government before taking his current position in the federal Department of Education. The entire leadership of the Rothbard-era Radical Caucus — Rothbard, Evers, Garris, Raimondo, Costello, Hunter, Rockwell — abandoned the LP for the GOP and its candidates. The Platform Committee’s proposed 2008 Platform will move it back toward its original character: a compact statement of the shared Libertarian principles that unite all of us who seek to dismantle the nanny state, without either mandating or ruling out anarchism as a destination. Support the 2008 Platform, and help rebuild the LP’s big tent. Free the LP Platform from the grip of the dead hand of these Rothbard Republicans.

  9. Brian Holtz

    Gene, you’re right that the temporary platform’s specific mention of the Vietnam war was dropped from the official 1972 platform, but contra Dondero I still would describe both as anti-interventionist.

    From http://libertarianmajority.net/1972-temporary-lp-platform:
    The United States should abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world, and should enter into alliances only with countries whose continued free existence is vital to our legitimate national interests. These countries should include: Japan, Australia, Canada, and the free countries of Western Europe. We should in particular disengage from any present alliances which include despotic governments, whether of the left or the right. [...] A doctrine of official non-interference by the United States in many areas of the world should not be construed to prevent private action on behalf of a foreign nation or foreign people. [...] We support the immediate and total withdrawal of all American troops from Indo-China.

    From http://marketliberal.org/LP/Platforms/1972.html:
    The United States should abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world, and should enter into alliances only with countries whose continued free existence is vital to the protection of the freedom of all American citizens.

    The next platform that I have is http://marketliberal.org/LP/Platforms/1976.txt:
    We call for the withdrawal of all American troops from bases abroad. We call for withdrawal from multilateral and bilateral commitments to military intervention (such as NATO and to South Korea) and for abandonment of interventionist doctrines (such as the Monroe Doctrine). [...] The important principle in foreign policy should be the elimination of intervention by the United States Government in the affairs of other nations.

    If anybody has any platforms from between 1972 and 1976, I’d love a copy.

  10. paulie cannoli Post author

    Murray Rothbard, who had long been active in Republican politics, defended Richard Nixon for President in 1972 over the alternative of George McGovern.

    Is that a fair picture? As I understand it, Rothbard dealt with numerous parties over the years – from Dixiecrats in 1948 to Black Panthers/Peace and Freedom Party for a period in the 1960s, Libertarians, Republicans at various times – he switched parties and alliances quite a bit.

    Bill Evers, an anarchist who helped Rothbard rewrite the LP platform in the 1970’s, ended up as an advisor to George W. Bush, and worked in Iraq in the occupation government before taking his current position in the federal Department of Education. The entire leadership of the Rothbard-era Radical Caucus — Rothbard, Evers, Garris, Raimondo, Costello, Hunter, Rockwell — abandoned the LP for the GOP and its candidates.

    That certainly paints a picture of unanimity at first glance. Yet Evers is apparently pro-war, whereas Garris, Raimondo, Hunter and Rockwell are stridently antiwar. Rockwell is opposed to voting altogether now, while Raimondo has endorsed everyone from Buchanan to Nader to (some extent) Obama. They clearly continue to take at least some interest in the internal politics of the Libertarian Party.

    Similarly, the writers at Reason were all over the place with their presidential endorsements. There’s no unanimity on what party, if any, best advances the cause of liberty within either of these “wings” of the movement.

    replacing a compact moderate minimal-government platform

    I appreciate learning this aspect of party history from you – I did not know it prior to reading it either in or shortly before Denver. But still, I wonder whether this is really the full picture; above, Gene Berkman alludes to liberventionist(s) filibustering the platform, getting at least a partial win, and then immediately leaving the party at the first convention. Were there other issues the party would have been more radical on from day one without that element?

    the LP’s moderate leaders, who in 1983 took refuge in the Cato Institute

    As I understand it, the Kochs have military contracts and held fundraiser(s) for mainstream Republicans this year, and I vaguely recall covering them supporting corporate welfare and/or eminent domain of some sort a year or two ago (I’d have to go back digging to find it).

  11. paulie cannoli Post author

    ’76 platform on foreign policy certainly sounds better than ’72 – “alliances only with countries whose continued free existence is vital to the protection of the freedom of all American citizens” seems to indicate that there are such countries, (although I suppose it is possible to also interpret it as there are none, therefore there should be no alliances) and in practice could serve as carte blanche for entangling alliances with all sorts of countries – after all, it would be up to the government to interpret which alliances would be necessary, much as is actually the case now.

    The language about not being a world policeman is nice, but it just removes one excuse for intervention while suggesting a different one – the end results would likely be about equal. I would expect little or no actual change in foreign policy if a major party adopted that exact same plank and won the election.

  12. Gene Berkman

    Brian Holtz’s history of Rothbard and the LP is entertaining, as much fantasy in entertaining.

    Rothbard had quit the Republican Party by 1956, to back Adlai Stevenson over Eisenhower, and he did become involved in the Peace & Freedom Party in 1968.

    He opposed the creation of the Libertarian Party in 1972 on the grounds “why let everyone know how few of us there are.” I had the same feeling, but I went to Denver anyway.

    When Eric Garris, Justin Raimondo & Colin Hunter started a libertarian Republican group, Rothbard and Bill Evers denounced them. Rothbard came to back Pat Buchanan because he overestimated Buchanan’s commitment to non-interventionist foreign policy, and he had come to see the LP as a losing proposition by 1992.

    The LP adopted a firm commitment to Non-intervnentionism in its platform by 1974, because most active libertarians supported it. Rothbard, for all his prominence, was only a minor influence in moving libertarians to support an antiwar position – the logic of the non-aggression principle was widely accepted among libertarians, whether liked Rothbard or loathed him.

    Ed Crane and the others who founded Cato accept and promote non-interventionism. They left the Libertarian Party because the faction funded by Charles Koch lost in the race for National Chair in 1981. Charles Koch had put millions into the LP, and did not want to fund something that was out of his control.

    To say that the moderate platform adopted at Denver in 1972 led to LP growth which came to stop after the adoption of a more radical platform in 1974 is just absurd. The party grew much faster after 1974, both because it had a platform that could attract real libertarians, and because Charles Koch put real funding behind it.

    Koch etc gave up on the party not only because they lost control, but because their strategy of a quick breakthrow by running a major campaign for President did not work. They expected Ed Clark to receive 3 or 4 million votes in 1980, and when he didn’t they gave up.

    The real lesson is that a principled Libertarian Party must build from local activism up, because people will always hesitate to vote third party for President. Unfortunately, the party has continued to wait for lighting to strike, rather than access its assets and use them rationally.

  13. Gene Berkman

    A final point, on Rothbard backing Nixon over McGovern in 1972. He actually did not vote in that election, but he wrote an editorial in “Libertarian Outlook” saying he welcomed the defeat of McGovern, because of McGovern’s support for quotas in affirmative action, and quotas in selection of delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

    Quotas were a major factor in Ayn Rand’s opposition to McGovern as well. Historically, quota systems have systematically discriminated against Jews, and it hit too close to home for Rand and Rothbard.

  14. Trent Hill

    “Quotas were a major factor in Ayn Rand’s opposition to McGovern as well. Historically, quota systems have systematically discriminated against Jews, and it hit too close to home for Rand and Rothbard.”

    But arent libertarians anti-semitic?!?!!?! lol.

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